Rabies still a problem
It may have seemed harmless when two children in southern Indiana picked up a dead bat near a school earlier this month.
But some but some quick thinking on an adult’s part may have proved life-saving: The bat tested positive for rabies, a deadly virus that requires a quick response.
The incident, which resulted in a treatment protocol for the children of five vaccinations each and started within 48 hours of exposure, is one of 21 cases of rabid bats reported this year in Indiana.
That’s about average, and this year’s total is on pace to remain below last year’s 39 cases.
State health officials want to reduce those numbers further, which is why they’ve joined with health organizations around the globe to get the word about the virus in observance of World Rabies Day on Sept. 28.
“Rabies is still a disease threat in the United States,” said Denise Dearer, a spokeswoman with the Indiana Board of Animal Health.
It’s a rare threat in the U.S., in large part as a result of 50-plus years of improved vaccination efforts for domestic animals and stray-animal control programs.
But the 2006 death of a 10-year-old Indiana girl, who’d been bitten by a bat, was a reminder that it’s not been eradicated. Hers was the first rabies death in the state in 50 years.
Last fall, a 43-year-old Southern Indiana man died after exposure to a rabid bat.
Co-workers later told health officials that he’d reported seeing a bat after removing a tarp covering a farm tractor, but didn’t believe he’d been bit.
That’s part of the challenge for health officials. You can’t tell by looking at a bat if it’s rabid and a bat bite is small and hard to detect. The initial symptoms in humans are also easily mistaken for other illnesses.
Only a small percent of bats carry rabies, but the advice from Indiana State Department of Health is to err on the side of caution.
“Anyone who has a bat exposure, or is bitten by another animal suspected of having rabies, should seek medical attention as soon as possible,” said Jennifer House, a veterinary epidemiologist.
The same goes for pets. If you think they’ve been bitten or exposed, contact a veterinarian.
Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and nervous system of humans and animals. It’s most often transmitted through a bite. Once rabies symptoms set in, the virus is almost 100 percent fatal.
In decades past, the human cases in the U.S. most often resulted from a dog bite. More recently, the cases of human cases are linked to bats and raccoons.
That’s why state health officials say it’s important vaccinate to protect them from raccoon and bat bites, and to bat-proof your home to reduce exposure.
“Bats can slip through a crevice a quarter-inch wide,” said House. “It doesn’t take much for them to get in somewhere you don’t want them.”